(CNN) -

Wiry, wizened and dressed in a tattered old jelaba robe, Abdul-Hakim lives in a world in which fact and fantasy are blurred together through an ancient alchemy.

Almost every day over four decades and more, he's stood out in Jemaa el Fna, the great sprawling square that forms the heart of medieval Marrakech in Morocco.

In cold winter rain and mist, and in the searing heat of the endless desert summer, he's one enduring fixture, a constant force in a realm constantly touched by change.

He stands there, knitted cap pulled down tight over a balding scalp, fingers gnarled and black with dirt, a face conjured from a weather-worn sheet of chapped leather.

As the muezzin's voice radiates down over the long morning shadows, Abdul-Hakim finishes his prayer and steps out into the sunlight.

Having given a blessing that begins "All things to the pious," he claps his hands to gain an audience.

All of a sudden, the story begins:

"There was once a woodcutter named Mushkil Gusha," he says, his voice rasping a tale from the "Arabian Nights."

"A man who was as honest and kind as any other alive ..."

Within an instant, a halqa has formed, a sacred circle of souls.

Pressed shoulder to shoulder, the listeners crane forward, as they do, day in day out, every day.

For them, Abdul-Hakim's stories are a kind of magical lifeblood, a wisdom and an entertainment all rolled into one.

"He transports us to distant kingdoms," says Malik, a shopkeeper from a nearby perfume stall.

"Only he can weave magic like this. I was brought up with his tales, just as my own sons have been."

The hakawati, the storyteller, lowers his voice, a technique to draw the listeners in towards him.

He takes his time, feeding them the tale as though it were some delicious sweet.

Powders and homemade lotions

A stone's throw away, a healer is setting up his stall.

He's dressed in the light blue robe of the Tuareg, his skin as dark as his teeth are white.

From an old Berber chest he pulls out his wares -- a clutch of ostrich eggs, a pair of dried chameleons, a jaguar's skull and an assortment of vials and jars, powders and homemade lotions.

Beside him is another medicine man.

His stock in trade is sulfur and antimony, dried damask roses, and a half-gallon pot of lizard oil.

Across from him is a dentist.

In his right hand is a pair of electrical pincers. In his left, a shoebox half-filled with human teeth.

"I never cause any pain," he explains meekly. "You see, it's because I whisper a spell as I make the extraction. Take a seat here, sir, and I will prove it to you now."